A Palestinian Perspective

an interview with Anan Ameri

Anan Anzeri is the national president of the Palestine Aid Society, an organization working to support Palestinian national institutions, particularly women’s committees in the Occupied Territories and vocational centers in Lebanon. She is also the author of a doctoral dissertation (Wayne State University) on the Jordanian economy. David Finkel of the ATC editorial beard interviewed her in late August.

ATC: To begin from the Palestinian perspective, how do you see this crisis as it’s unfolded so fir affecting the Palestinian struggle for independence and human rights?

Anan Amen: I think it’s really bad, for a number of reasons. First, as you know, people had been discussing the necessity for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and were beginning to see Israel as the source of instability in the region. Now, the Palestinian issue seems very minor; and who knows how long this situation will last.

Second, it creates new alliances. The United States has told Israel to keep a low profile, but now you have the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt together—although the United States doesn’t want to show this alliance openly yet This isn’t positive for the Palestinians, because the stronger the United States, the harder is a solution.

Then, with [Palestine Liberation Organization chairman] Yasser Arafat taking a pro-Saddam stand while this may appeal to people on an emotional basis because Palestinians have been treated so badly by the United States—there are great problems on a practical level. A lot of Palestinians working in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates will be subject to persecution and ultimately driven out And this is a main source of income [for Palestinians at home living on money earned by family members working in the Gulf—ed.].

ATC: Did Arafat take this stand on his own, without consulting the PLO executive bodies?

A.A.: Yes. From what I read—I don’t have direct contact—and from the whole history of Arafat and his tendency to make decisions on his own, it looks like he did exactly this, and it has caused a lot of problems.

ATC: There is considerable speculation, and fear, over a possible Israeli role when war breaks out. How do you read this possibility and its implications?

A.A.: My fear is that the real agenda of the Israeli government is the “transfer plan” [to expel Palestinians from the West Bank—ed.], and in a chaotic war situation, they might occupy Jordan and move people.

If the United States puts pressure on the Israelis not to intervene, they won’t. But they have plans, to occupy Jordan and then agree to leave in return for settling a large number of Palestinians there. Another option would be to hit Syria or Iraq. Even though Syria is allying itself with the United States, Israel doesn’t consider the conflict with Syria to be over.

What scares me is that if Saddam Hussein feels cornered and isolated, he will not go by himself. If he decides to die like a hero and strike Israel, and Israel retaliates with nuclear weapons or god-knows-what other means—that’s the worst-case scenario. It’s not the likeliest, but it could happen if Saddam feels he’s going to be defeated and decides to take some people with him.

ATC: You’re saying in part that Saddam is a dangerous figure, which is part of why there’s considerable public support for the argument that we have to go in and stop him. In this difficult situation, what should the U.S. peace movement be advocating?

A.A.: The problem should have been left to the Arab peoples to solve. I don’t think there was any real fear of not having oil if Saddam Hussein controlled much of the oil reserves. But my belief is that the United States always wanted military bases in the Middle East, which they couldn’t get because of Arab sentiments.

No Arab government could give the United States bases in the face of its own people. Also, the Soviet Union was a deterring factor, which could have led to conflict. Now Bush has found the right time. And we won’t see the United States out, even if the situation is defused. The U.S. government will negotiate for permanent bases, whether or not there’s war.

So our responsibility as a peace movement is to say: U.S. Out of the Middle East. Because this presence will generate more hostility between the Arab people and the United States, and we don’t need more of that.

ATC: You’ve lived in Jordan and studied the Jordanian economy in the regional context. How do you see this crisis affecting it, and what is King Hussein’s situation?

A.A.: King Hussein is in the most vulnerable position. Jordan has no resources; it was artificially created as a buffer state. As Israel became stronger, Jordan was losing its importance to the West (as a barrier against nationalist Arab powers).

Jordan is very much dependent on aid from the Gulf and the incomes of workers there. And militarily, it feels very threatened by Saddam. Jordan and the Palestinians are extremely vulnerable. So King Hussein is taking a position that is neither 100 percent with Sad-dam nor the Americans.

This war creates interesting affiances. King Hussein was on the payroll of the CIA for decades, until Jimmy Carter came in. The majority of his population are Palestinians. Eighteen months ago there were riots that forced him to accept new elections and a parliament He can’t stand on the side of the Americans in front of his own population.

The media try to portray the people [in Jordan) as pro-Saddam. But they aren’t so much pro-Saddam as they are anti-American. Any Arab ruler who is willing to challenge the United States will become popular, whatever his history, because people are so disillusioned with the U.S. So King Hussein has no chance of standing with Saudi Arabia and the U.S. presence.

On the other hand, he can’t afford to stand totally with Saddam Hussein, because his money comes from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf area. He’s in the most vulnerable position and has to try to mediate.

ATC: King Hussein is a long-time U.S. ally. Do you think Washington would be willing to sacrifice him if this crisis develops into war?

A.A.: Sure, because Jordan isn’t the same as before. If the United States takes military bases in the Middle East, then Jordan as a buffer between Iraq, Syria and the Israelis isn’t so important.

It will also be interesting to see where Israel falls with respect to the United States. Israel was the U.S. base in the Middle East, if the U.S. now gets bases of its own, will it need Israel so badly? Israel might lose some of its importance.

When Saddam occupied Kuwait the United States couldn’t employ Israel to do the dirty work, because the Arab states couldn’t have joined the alliance in that case. Any Arab regime that allied itself directly with Israel couldn’t last twenty-four hours. We are also in a time when the Cold War and the concept of Israel fighting communism for us are ending.

ATC: What’s your view of the prospects in the Arab countries if a war really breaks out?

A.A.: I think what’s happening now will change the map of the Middle East, and things will never be the same. If the war breaks out, with Arabs killing Arabs, then what Arab people will remember won’t be Saddam Hussein’s history, but that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia fought alongside the United States against Iraq. People won’t think then about the human rights record of Sad-dam Hussein; they’ll see the Iraqi army fighting against the United States and dying while the Saudis fight alongside the Americans.

Debates are different in times of war than in peacetime. You don’t have the luxury of sitting and analyzing. The number of people who will volunteer to fight alongside Iraq, from Algeria to the Gulf, will be great If Saddam dies he will die as a hero, even though he will have ruined Iraq.

I am not a supporter of Saddam Hussein, from his war against Iran to his treatment of people in his country—the Communists, the Kurds. I don’t think we have any leader who has such a record of massacre against his own people. And the Iran-Iraq war was uncalled for, and perhaps instigated by the United States in support of Saddam. The Iraqi people paid very heavily for it—and Saddam occupied Kuwait because he came out of it broke.

Iraq has more wealth than Kuwait when you consider its land, agriculture, resources, but Saddam ruined his own country with ten years of war.

ATC: To return to the Palestinians, what do you think would be their best policy?

A.A.: The best policy for the Palestinians, and for those Arab countries that haven’t totally aligned, to save humanity, is for the Arab world to solve the problem. Saddam Hussein wouldn’t start a war against all the Arab countries if they stood together. That would be much harder for him than fighting against the United States, which makes him a hero.

After ten years of war with Iran he couldn’t have a war against all the Arab countries. His own people wouldn’t accept that But they will accept a war with the United States, the outsider I don’t know if it’s too late now for an Arab solution; and the U.S. won’t leave now without negotiating military bases.
But in the Middle East you never know what may happen. I don’t think the United States realizes the amount of anti-American sentiment. It wouldn’t surprise me if military coups took place in the countries supporting the United States. The rational solution is U.S. withdrawal and Arab mediation.

ATC: You spoke of changing the map of the Middle East. Do you have any idea what it might look like after a war?

A.A.: I don’t know; I still hope there won’t be war. But I think the United States would hit Saddam very quick and hard. The U.S. is postponing things until it has all its personnel and equipment in place. It will try to destroy Saddam’s army—that’s why he’s using these foreigners as shields. The United States will want to install a puppet regime in Iraq and the royal family in Kuwait.

A long war won’t be in the interests of the United States—people wouldn’t accept it and the administration is not stupid. They will want to do it quickly.

One thing I’d like to say is that the media try to divide things in a black-and-white way. You’re with Saddam or you’re with Bush. That’s simplistic. It’s possible to approve neither of Saddam nor of what the United States administration is doing. Yet, there will be growing sentiments against the Arab-Americans and Palestinian community in the United States if they stand up and say, we are against this war It will be made to look like our loyalties are with our countries of origin instead of this country.

So there’s fear in the Arab-American community that if we come out and join the peace movement, we will be accused of not being loyal Americans. People are worried about what happened [in World War II] to the Japanese.

It’s in the interests of this country to spend its money, not on war, but on housing and so many other needs. We’ve had ten years of Reagan and Bush that gutted social services and medical care. We hoped that the end of the Cold War would allow spending on these services, which are backward in relation to many other capitalist countries.

November-December 2019, ATC 201